Stephen King composes the first draft of his novels "with the door shut" to any and all, even his wife, Tabitha, whom he always trusts to read his finished drafts.
He writes this way, "downloading what's in my head directly to the page," writing "as fast as I can and still remain comfortable.
"Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job: it's like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There's plenty of opportunity for self doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that's always waiting to settle in."
King reveals this, his writing method, in his small book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, which I have almost finished reading. His first draft, which he calls "the all-story draft" because it's the most important part of the novel,"should be written with no help (or interference) from anyone else. There may come a point when you want to show what you're doing to a close friend (very often the close friend you think of first is the one who shares your bed), either because you're proud of what you're doing of because you're doubtful about it.
"My best advice is to resist this impulse. Keep the pressure on; don't lower it by exposing what you've written to the doubt, the praise, or even the well-meaning questions of someone from the Outside World."
When the first draft is finished King lets Tabitha look it over. Then he puts the draft away to "rest" undisturbed for at least six weeks while he works on other projects. Only after this period does he revisit the draft and go to work on revising and housekeeping chores such as grammatical and spelling errors.
"With six weeks' worth of recuperation time, you'll...be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development. I'm talking about holes big enough to drive a truck through. It's amazing how some of these things can elude the writer while he or she is occupied with the daily work of composition.
"And listen - if you spot a few of these big holes, you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us."
In this the second draft King may add scenes and incidents that reinforce the story. He aims at giving it resonance.
"I'll also want to delete stuff that goes in other directions. There's apt to be a lot of that stuff, especially near the beginning of a story, when I have a tendency to flail. All that thrashing around has to go if I am to achieve anything like a unified effect.
"When I've finished reading and making all my little anal-retentive revisions, it's time to open the door and show what I've written to four or five close friends who have indicated a willingness to look."
King's approach might seem overly cautious to those of us who post frequently on Open Salon, in particular those like my alter ego, Chicken Màâàn, who puts up a new segment of my novel Tribulation Time at least once a week. My marinating time for each segment is at most a couple of days. I do admit to tinkering and tweaking the work over the next few days once I've posted it, but it goes up unread by anyone beyond the door of my study. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to the reality that my work even when published ultimately is unseen much beyond my immediate family and a handful of friends.
Perhaps this defying the preferred creative method of a master of the craft, which has earned him millions - readers and dollars - is enough proof of feeble mindedness to have me committed and divorced, with the remainder of my shrinking IRA and vulnerable Social Security checks awarded to my wife as payment for having suffered a fool for so long.
Fortunately, I am told, for every yin there is a yang. If Stephen King is the yin in this imaginative figment of a debate, I would proffer as the mitigating yang that early popularizer of the serialized novel, a man who might arguably be considered the Stephen King of his time, the eminently successful and enduring literary giant Charles John Huffam Dickens.
To my knowledge Dickens hasn't left us any memoir of his approach to the writing craft that would give us insight into whether he had anyone else read his stuff before he sent it to the periodicals that published him, or how long a marinating time he allowed between the writing and any revising and sending it off.
Here's what Wikipedia offers on that: "Unlike other authors who completed novels before serialisation, Dickens often created the episodes as they were being serialised. The practice lent his stories a particular rhythm, punctuated by cliffhangers to keep the public looking forward to the next [monthly] installment. The continuing popularity of his novels and short stories is such that they have never gone out of print.
This is the place where, were I the kind to plug in a cliché before taking my leave, I might say, "I rest my case." I try to avoid clichés, though, and, in fact, I'm not quite ready to take my leave - almost, but not quite. There remains one point uncovered: the uniqueness of the Internet to both King and Dickens.
On Writing came out in 2000, when the Internet was just getting its legs. Salon.com was only five years old then and its stepchild, Open Salon, not yet a gleam in daddy's eye. No telling whether Stephen King's methods, had he begun his writing career on Open Salon, might be more open today than they were when he wrote On Writing. More likely, maybe, that Charles Dickens would feel at home with the even shorter intervals between composition and publication than were available in his time.
I have no idea how many other novelists are doing what I do. There are several on Open Salon. The most consistent who come to mind at the moment is eroticist/philosopher/psychologist James M. Emmerling and neo-noir master Damon Walters.
The advantage for me is that knowing others may see my work as soon as I click "send," helps me focus more keenly on getting it right right away. I'm aware I might also be getting it wrong in various ways - character development, sequence, pacing, detail, tone and even story.
Screwing up the story, which I agree with King is the most important part of the novel, is the biggest danger in writing off the cuff. I don't outline or plot, and have only a rough idea of the direction in which my story is headed, with each new segment to a certain degree an existential leap of faith.
Part of the motive for me is the excitement of immediate feedback, even the so-called "circle jerk" kind that tells me little about how the reader's receiving my tale. What the quickie comment does say is that the reader has cared enuf to open the post. That's akin to taking a book off the shelf at the airport newstand and flipping thru it while deciding whether to take it on the plane or put it back. Attracting that first impulse is a potential jump-start.
I've noticed most fiction on OS attracts few readers. I am one who reads very little fiction here, as OS has so many gifted writers and I have so little time. Why I mostly prefer the nonfiction posts is something of a mystery to me. Maybe it's because I'm drawn more to real than fantasy, which would seem contradictory, as I am one of the fantasists.
Maybe it's because I'm trying to make my fantasy world as real as I can without the distraction of other fantasies. I can say only that it might be even more vital with nonreal fantasy to stay as close to reality as one can, or at least as consistent as possible within its own context. Tribulation's fantasy world would vanish in a puff of confusion if Dr. Guest, Clover or a Hobbitt were suddenly to enter from stage left and join the story.